What a night! Susan Kaufman and Jamie Peha

When I was asked to be the chair of the Women Business Owners Nellie Cashman awards process and event last year,  I looked at how much time I thought it would take and my first answer was no.  Then after some discussion and persuasion, I agreed to take it on if I could work with a couple of co-chairs and share the responsibility.  I didn’t say no at first because I didn’t want to do it, but because as a professional if I am going to take something on I want to do the best job I can and I wasn’t sure I had the time to devote to it.

So along with my two fabulous co-chairs, Yvonne Gitchel of Executive Support Advantage and Jessica Adair of Workplace Wellness we embarked on the fondly named “Nellie” program 11 months ago. I made the time and I am glad I did.  I met amazing women whose skills were different than mine, we helped each other, learned from each other, worked hard and  had some great laughs along the way.  It was a rewarding experience that fits with my desire to give back to things I believe in and to help recognize extraordinary women in business.

Women Business Owners (WBO) is Puget Sound’s leading organization for women entrepreneurs. The mission: to propel resolute women entrepreneurs to embrace their fullest vision of success. Beyond a great business referral network, WBO is a resource for inspiration, education, enduring relationships, and leadership development.

The award, also known as the WBO Nellie, is the most prestigious and longest running honor of its kind in the region. Presentation of the award brings together more than 300 prominent local business and community leaders in a professionally organized and hosted awards dinner banquet to share the inspiration of our most prominent women entrepreneurs and business owners.

To qualify a nominee must own at least 51% of the business, gross more than $1million in annual revenue and have three or more employees. Candidates for The Nellie are judged based on their entrepreneurial spirit, ethics and community spirit, financial and management skills, and the difficulty and risk they have endured to achieve their success.


Susan Kaufman with Emcee Meeghan Black of Evening Magazine

There were many tasks involved in the planning but none so involved as selecting nominees and finding those that met the criteria to qualify.  I am also a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a worldwide organization of professional women of high achievement in the multifaceted field of food, fine beverage, and hospitality. With active chapters throughout the world, Les Dames is dedicated to supporting and promoting the achievement of women in the culinary professions and to fostering excellence through education and charitable activities.

The Seattle chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier was founded in 1988 and consists of 58 members, including chefs, winemakers, cookbook authors, caterers, restaurateurs, chocolatiers, food photographers and consultants.  I asked two Les Dames members if they were interested in becoming nominees for the Nellie.   It turned out one didn’t meet the exact criteria (ownership of more than 50% as she shared business ownership equally with her husband) however the other one did meet the criteria and became one of the nominees.

After determining the prestigious judging panel and going through the extensive judging process, more than 15 nominees were submitted.  The judging process determined five qualified finalists.  Those finalists are then interviewed by the judges, asked to speak to the membership at luncheons, and along the way are supported by the organization to help prepare them for the big gala.  Each was assigned a WBO liaison to keep them abreast of the process as well as a speaking coach to help prepare their remarks at the gala. During this time we gathered a strong committee, sought appropriate sponsorships and worked on every event aspect down to the tiniest detail to plan the gala.

Nellie winner Susan Kaufman and friends

On October 14th at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in the gorgeous Spanish Ballroom, we were finally ready to greet guests and showcase the finalists.  It was a grand evening featuring Meeghan Black of Evening Magazine as the emcee.  Attendees at the gala were inspired by tales of moxie, creativity, ingenuity, compassion and courage from all the finalists.

And finally, the Women Business Owner of the Year was named.  It was quite a moment for everyone.  Seattle’s Susan Kaufman of Serafina and Cicchetti restaurants was named as the 2010 Nellie Cashman Woman Business Owner of the Year. Susan was moved to tears of joy and it was a heartfelt moment.  Her friends and family surrounded her and the room erupted in celebration.

Anne-Marie Faiola, CEO of Bramble Berry, 2009 Nellie winner and 2010 Nellie judge said it perfectly. ”With Susan, her commitment to financial management really stood out. It’s not easy to run a restaurant and start another one, all from existing capital. And to have a successful restaurant that is consistently profitable and full over two decades is a rare thing. Additionally, the fact that many of her staff are long-time members of her team speaks volumes about the type of company she runs. Her enthusiasm for creating community through her food and restaurants was obvious as was her can-do attitude and her grace and wit under pressure.”

Women Business Owners also awarded Susan Huenefeld of Accents et cetera Gift Baskets was with the WBO Excellence Award.

All of the finalists were truly amazing and the best part…they all supported each other.  Now that’s success.

Susan Kaufman

About Susan Kaufman

Kaufman, a native of New York, grew up eating all foods Italian. She is a born entrepreneur, having started her first business at the young age of 16. Her love affair with cooking, especially Italian, blossomed in her early 20’s, after spending a year in Italy. This love affair begat two highly successful restaurants in Juneau, Alaska. During her ten years as chef/owner, Kaufman introduced Alaska to authentic regional Italian cuisine, from house-made pasta to freshly made gelato.  In 1991, she opened Serafina in Seattle, which was an immediate success city-wide and has become nationally known. Serafina, now in its nineteenth year, is considered a Seattle institution, and has received many accolades and awards, including Best Italian, Most Romantic, Best Wine list, Best Outdoor Dining.

As a business owner, Kaufman has made well-timed decisions on personnel changes, expansions, remodels, and property acquisition to promote growth. Her most recent move was to purchase the building behind Serafina to open Cicchetti Kitchen and Bar. A strong proponent of the local and sustainable food movement, Kaufman resides close to the restaurants, where her kitchen garden is a source of herbs and vegetables for Serafina. Running her restaurants combines everything she loves: food, wine, community-building, taking care of people, indulging her creativity, and so much more. Kaufman’s other full time job is raising her 13-year old daughter Isabella, guiding her into becoming a powerful woman in her own right. Kaufman lives true to the Italian idiom of bringing people together to share food and wine with family and friends.

The four extraordinary women finalists


Barbara Bollinger, Senior Salons, LLC www.seniorsalons.com

Bollinger impressed the judges with how she found a small, under-served market and then capitalized on it with honesty and integrity. Dealing with seniors is an area where families really need to know that their parents and loved ones are in good hands and through Bollinger’s systems and processes at Senior Salons, they can feel that way, even when Bollinger isn’t on site.

Jody Hall, Cupcake Royale & Vérité Coffee Inc. www.cupcakeroyale.com

The judges commented that Hall’s passion for community came through very clearly–both from her desire to go back to community coffee houses and with her commitment to donating to worthy non-profits.  Additionally, she has grown her company without outside investment. She now has four locations, two opening in a recession. That takes great planning, a huge appetite for risk and an iron-fisted grasp of project details and management.

Andrea Heuston, Artitudes Design Inc. www.artitudesdesign.com

Heuston went through a health issue that made her business have to operate on its own without her. The mark of a great boss is if the workplace can carry on without her and not only did her business carry on, but her staff kept a good foundation so that when she was able to return, she could do so and build upon their successes, all of which impressed the judges.  As did Heuston’s commendable personal and company community involvement with both time and money.

Liz Lasater, Red Arrow Logistics www.redarrowlogistics.com

To run a trucking and logistics company is often thought of as ‘man’s job.’ Lasater not only runs a logistics company but she runs one of the best ones in the country with incredible on-time delivery rates and numerous accolades for handling difficult and time-sensitive shipments.  Red Arrow is one of the fastest growing women led business in America. The judges salute Lasater’s incredible vision, drive, style and sense of humor.